The Business of CAD
Issue #804 | January 28, 2014
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In This Issue
1. Write Once, Run on Many CAD Platforms
Exclusive interview with Evan Yares of Nanosoft America
2. Heard In Twitter and On the Blog
Dassault says Solidworks is growing faster than the industry
3. Letters to the Editor
Our readers explain the cloud to CAD executives
Write Once, Run on Many CAD Platforms
Evan Yares is general manager of Nanosoft America, whose AutoCAD-compatible software is developed in Russia. I interviewed him last week via Skype.
Evan Yares: There are a lot of software companies out there doing really innovative things. For example, VisualTau did a Web-based CAD program that was bought by Autodesk and then turned into AutoCAD 360. But we're not trying to do anything particularly technically innovative; we are just trying to reduce the friction of using basic CAD software.
There are millions who use AutoCAD and for whom it works just fine -- except for a few details, such as the software being too expensive to keep up to date. So customers use older versions, which don't work well on newer hardware and have DWG compatibility problems with new releases.
What Nanosoft offers is a solution that works close enough to what AutoCAD users are familiar with so that they can get their work done efficiently, but costs a whole lot less. The money is not a little thing, either. Autodesk is changing their policy so that a year from now you have to have a subscription, or won't be able to upgrade cost effectively. [Autodesk now charges upgrades at 100% of a new license; upgrades will be eliminated in April, 2015.] The lifecycle cost for AutoCAD, say over ten years, is nearly $9,000 per seat [the initial cost of software + 10 years of subscriptions].
NanoCAD Plus is $180 a year for subscription (a little more if you want network licensing) with support, bug fixes, and updates. We don't hold your hand on-site for that price, but you do get an online ticketing system and not just a forum. This saves about $7,000 per seat versus the alternative.
Grabowski: NanoCAD began as a free app, making money by charging for add-ons. Is this still the case?
Yares: It is still part of the plan. Basic nanoCAD is free; nanoCAD Plus costs.
We make money in several different ways. In the case of nanoCAD, it is the freemium model: we give away a free version and get people to sign up for the paid version. Evernote is an example of another company that does this.
The next step is to sell add-on products, and Nanosoft has a large number of them, such as for designing railroad systems, low voltage wiring for factories, fire suppression systems. The list goes on, and includes about 40 major applications.
But the add-ons were designed to Russian standards. They are well-proven and many people in Russia use them. So now we have to globalize them, making sure Russian standards are expanded to local ones. This will take some work, and is in-process now. They are being localized in markets where it makes sense.
NanoCAD is a strong platform for building these applications. As a matter of history, it was created as a platform from the start, not as just a standalone CAD program, and so we are looking at working with third-party developers. We also see the OEM market at significant.
Commonly, AutoCAD-like programs all have APIs of several types. .NET is the most attractive one, but the AutoCAD version of .NET doesn't allow you to create custom objects; for that, you have to use ARX, which is more of a beast.
And so we have a multi-CAD .NET API that runs as a level on top of the existing ARX API with which create and manage custom objects. Because it sits on top of existing APIs, we just need to use an enabler between the two. We can build enablers for AutoCAD, BricsCAD, ZWCAD, or any other CAD system that has an ARX-like API. A feature of the multi-CAD .NET API is that it allows object-code compatibility. This means we can run the same add-on app on multiple CAD systems, including multiple releases (for example, AutoCAD 2009, 2010, 2011, BricsCAD, etc) without the need to recompile This is an extremely attractive thing for a developer.
Ours is proven technology, because it has been used by Nanosoft for our own applications.
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Write Once, Run on Many CAD Platforms, continued...
Grabowski: Do you have any wins out there?
Yares: One example in the USA is ITW, a building material company, which uses it for truss design. There are others who are not ready to go public. And, of course, there are hundreds of thousands of users around the world using both nanoCAD and vertical market products built on it.
Our cost structure is different than for an IntelliCAD or BricsCAD. For an OEM to deliver a specialty product, it ends up being less expensive.
Grabowski: Why is it less expensive? What is fee arrangement do you have in place?
Yares: OEM licensing terms are negotiated based on the particular need. For example, the OEM can deliver a product free to their users, or as a per-seat license. The fees would be different, depending on their choice.
Grabowski: The free version of nanoCAD accepts APIs?
Yares: The free version has all the APIs built in; users can develop anything they want for themselves. But users cannot sell commercial products on the free version of nanoCAD, naturally.
But if an OEM comes to us and wants to offer an OEM product built on a free platform, we can accommodate them.
Grabowski: How do you make money on the free OEM versions?
Yares: They'd pay a fee to distribute free copies. Their free OEM version would be locked through licensing so that other commercial apps could not be built on it.
Grabowski: How is the marketing of nanoCAD happening outside of Russia?
Yares: The marketing is an intersecting problem. At one level, it has to be by word-of-mouth and through peer awareness. The most important thing we can do is make certain that people become aware of our product.
It's like Open Office versus Microsoft Office: it is surprising how many people don't know about the free Open Office. A lot of marketing is about awareness --for both those who are CAD professionals and those who are not. We also need to reach potential partners, such as resellers, distributors, third-party developers, and OEMs.
Grabowski: One of the hits against compatible products like Open Office and IntelliCAD is that they are not fully compatible. How do you deal with this in nanoCAD vs AutoCAD?
Yares: In the early days of IntelliCAD it was a problem, lacking things like associative hatching. But today's programs have reached a level of maturity becoming 'good enough' (I don't mean this in a pejorative way).
We support an extensive command and object set, yet there are a lot of features in AutoCAD that don't get used much, and so aren't really needed by the vast majority of potential nanoCAD users.
Grabowski: Considering the ZwCADs, GstarCADs, IntelliCADs, ARESes,BricsCADs, you guys, plus all the OEM versions, is there room for everyone?
Yares: Yes, because there are a lot more good ones than there used to be. But there isn't room for any one to become dominant. I respect what these other guys have done, especially IntelliCAD, which had to overcome real challenges and is still around, and doing well.
Grabowski: Why should someone use nanoCAD?
Yares: Because we bring something different to the market than the others. We provide a range of options, from uncrippled free CAD software to production-grade CAD applications at a cost lower than any competitor, plus OEM deals. We offer a compelling product for end-users, third-party developers, and OEMS. NanoCAD is a lightweight, efficient platform.
Interestingly, our most important market is probably people using ancient copies of AutoCAD. And there are a lot of people out there doing that.
One More Thing...
When DataNumen last week issued a press release, 'DWG Recovery Software Repairs Damaged AutoCAD DWG Files', I had to ask: "What is the advantage of your program over the Recover command built into AutoCAD and a number of its clones?" Their response:
AutoCAD's integrated Recover command can only recover minor corrupted DWG files, which is only about 5% of the actual corrupted DWG files. DataNumen DWG Recovery can recover very badly corrupted or damaged DWG files, as well as minor corrupted files, which is about 97% of the actual corrupted DWG files.
Heard In Twitter and On the Blog
Roopinder Tara (@rtara): RT @DEeditor: CEO Bertrand Sicot With 2.3 million users, SolidWorks "growing faster than the industry"
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Alex Bausk (@bauskas): It is deeply symbolic that the UK, country about which Orwell's 1984 was written, is the leader in state-backed #BIM enforcement.
David Light (@davewlight): Will see how it plays out....with nobody being completely clear on what #bim means to them, we have a long way to go! :-s
Alex Bausk (@bauskas): I personally think BIM has become a label. To be applied at will. All meaning has been washed out of it. We need to rebuild.
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upFront.eZine (@upFronteZine): Google creates ethics board to ensure DeepMind technology isn't abused; ethics board to ensure Google can abuse the technology.
upFront.eZine (@upFronteZine): If Google's ethics board leans utilitarianism, then abuse away! If it leans hedonism, then abuse away! If consequentialism, then abuse
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upFront.eZine (@upFronteZine): I recall in 1984 a friend showing his newly-purchased Macintosh 128K. For him, it quickly became a doorstop; he stuck with PCs ever since.
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Here are items that appeared on the WorldCAD Access blog recently at http://worldcadaccess.typepad.com:
Letters to the Editor
Re: Dassault Moves to the Internal Cloud
"Interesting notes from Bernard Charles re Dassault and cloud designs. A fundamental understanding of the distinction between scalable/cloud and single-machine/desktop products is below the pay-grade of most corporate executives. Jeff Bezos (CEO of Amazon) was one of the few who famously recognized it when he issued his mandate in 2002: http://siliconangle.com/furrier/2011/10/12/google-engineer-accidently-shares-his-internal-memo-about-google-platform/
"In a software product, all that matters is whether the different components are linked as libraries (DLLs) or through service interfaces over a network (like HTTP). For example, like most desktop products, the components of SolidWorks (the GUI, Parasolid kernel, file converters) are linked as DLLs, which means the application is limited to running within an individual process on a single machine. Component interactions are by function calls with references into a common block of shared memory.
Alternatively, you could have designed each component to run in its own separate process and arranged for them to communicate through sockets (data channels that transmit byte-streams in both directions).
"There is no reason why a product based on the multi-process service interface structure could not appear to the end-user exactly as if it were a single unified DLL-linked product, because its network can be made to exist internally within the operating system -- so that nobody knows it's there.
"Once the software is in this form, the individual components can be easily distributed to other processors on the same machine, on the local cloud, and on the public cloud through standard protocols to draw on vast pools of compute resources. In other words, it's future-proof and it can be migrated to wherever the massively scalable resources emerge -- be it locally or remotely.
"Most software engineers, however, instinctively favour the DLL structure over service interface linking because it's far less hackable, easier to debug, and considerably more efficient for machines with limited memory and a small numbers of cores.
"To put it another way, software engineers are unlikely to create applications based on the multi-process service interface concept without an explicit instruction from the boss. The boss must accept that it will temporarily slow down development and make everything more difficult. But most bosses don't truly understand the issue.
"They observe that some products seem to naturally adapt to scalable/cloud architecture, while others are virtually immobile on the desktop. It is a mystery to them as to why. These underlying technical issues may apply to some of the CAD products from the companies you listed as rejecting the cloud, where the managers are rationalizing the limitations forced upon them by the designs they don't understand.
"No one can control how the market will develop or even how the pattern of availability of compute resources will develop. If, however, softare firms are clever and in it for the long term, they can keep technical options open so that the options can be exploited rapidly. "
- Name withheld by request
"Potential users of cloud-based engineering software, whether large enterprises targeted by Dassault Systems, or small- and medium-size enterprises targeted by Autodesk, are asking themselves two questions:
1. Who should manage their cloud computing infrastructure: an internal group or an external supplier?
2. Where should their cloud computing infrastructure be hosted: internally or externally?
"The answers to these questions vary, depending on context. Some applications, such as CFD [computational flow desing] and rendering, are generally perceived as good candidates for externally hosted/managed SAAS. (Check out www.lagoa.com.) But other applications that seem similar, such as systems engineering, appear to make users a little nervous. It comes down to these factors:
"I think Dassault is wise to recognize that many of their customers are not too excited at the thought of putting their IP [intellectural property] crown jewels on someone else's computers, no matter how trustworthy.
"Yet, while supporting internal cloud is a good first step, I don't think it's really sufficient. The next step I'd like to see is vendors unlocking the database, so that their customers can access and use their data as they wish, without needing to ask permission."
- Evan Yares
The editor replies: "Unlocking the database (like the one V6 uses) is not going to happen. One xlation company told me off the record, however, that they are close to figuring out the V6 format, and so will be offering translators later this year."
Mr Yares replies: "Some suppliers believe that the data structures used by their software are their IP, to be protected at all costs, even if that involves encrypting them. Other suppliers don't explicitly lock up their data structures, but often allow it to happen informally.
"Others are 'good guys' who are very open about their data structures.
"While the issue of software openness has a technical side, it's at heart a business problem. Follow the money: If you look at what people in major vendor and user companies are compensated to do, you'll find that open data is way down the list in priority. But not to paint too bleak a picture, it just happens that there are a few things way higher on the priority list (such as long-term archiving and model based definition) that are hard to do without open data structures.
"So, though progress is slow, things are actually getting better."
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"Well Ralph, this is it. By next Monday, I'll no longer be with Boeing and, by Sunday next, I'll be retired. Thanx for years of news, both good and bad, always fresh, and a couple of good books. Nice meeting you at AU Dev Days, those many moons ago. Stay well."
"Why work doesn't happen at work: Offices have become interruption factories."
- Jason Fried
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Entire contents copyright 2014 by upFront.eZine Publishing, Ltd. All rights reserved worldwide. Letters sent to the editor are subject to publication. Article reprint fee: $840. All trademarks belong to their respective holders. "upFront.eZine," "The Business of CAD," and "WorldCAD Access" are trademarks of upFront.eZine Publishing, Ltd. Letters to the editor may be edited for clarity and brevity. Translations and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by upFront.eZine Publishing, Ltd.